The gate closes on a boro era

The Gate closes on a Boro era

When Steve McClaren unveiled Gareth Southgate as his first signing for Boro back in summer 2001 few fans could have foreseen what an eventful eight years he would go on to have on Teesside.

The highly-rated England international’s decision to join Boro caused a stir at his former club Aston Villa given that he had always maintained that he wanted to move to a big club where he had a chance of winning honours – and then joined a club that had won nothing in it’s entire history!

Southgate proved to be an astute signing by McClaren as he went on to form a solid defensive partnership with his old Villa team-mate Ugo Ehiogu at the Riverside and took the club’s Player of the Year award in his first season.

McClaren was so impressed with Southgate’s ability he wasted no time in handing him the captain’s armband in the summer of 2002 when Paul Ince departed for Wolves.

Southgate went on to be a mainstay of the Boro side and on February 29 2004 he became the first captain of the club to lift a major trophy after Boro defeated Bolton Wanderers 2-1 in the Carling Cup final at Cardiff’s Millennium Stadium.

That monumental day in the club’s history also had the reward of European football being guaranteed for the 2004-05 campaign as Boro fans could look forward to watching teams from around the continent arriving at the Riverside Stadium and enjoy trips to see the club play competitively abroad.

Southgate led a star-studded side in that first European campaign as experienced stars such as Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink and Mark Viduka were draftred in to bolster the forward line. However, after a notable 3-0 group win over Lazio, the UEFA Cup run ended on a hot night in Lisbon as Sporting defeated Boro 4-2 on aggregate in the knockout stages.

The 2005-06 campaign was to be Southgate’s final one as a player and it ended on an unbelievable note as Boro – via two amazing comebacks against Basle and Steaua Bucharest – reached the final of the UEFA Cup in only their second season in the competition.

Unfortunately Boro were well beaten 4-0 by Sevilla in the final in Eindhoven, which turned out to be McClaren’s final game in charge as he had been lined up to replace Sven-Goran Eriksson as England coach.

Boro chairman Steve Gibson revealed to the fans he wanted a top-drawer manager to replace McClaren and then stunned everyone when he announced that Southgate would be handed the reins, despite the fact he had no experience or relevant UEFA pro Licence.

Having won over the Premier League in the battle to employ Southgate as manager, he guided Boro to a respectable 12th-placed finish in his first season.

The cracks started appearing in the second season – 2007-08 – as Yakubu and Jonathan Woodgate were allowed to follow Mark Viduka out of the exit door, while another mid-table finish was overshadowed by a disastrous 2-0 home defeat to Cardiff in the FA Cup quarter-finals. Many fans felt that should have spelled the end for Southgate’s tenure given that it represented Boro’s best chance to win the trophy and the players just did not turn up!

Boro did end the season on a high note with an 8-1 win against Manchester City, but that merely handed the fans false hope for what was to come.

Cost-cutting measures and a desire of key players to leave saw veteran goalkeeper Mark Schwarzer, combative midfield duo George Boateng and Lee Cattermole, experienced right-back Luke Young and creative midfielder Fabio Rochemback lost from an already small squad.

Southgate brought in French Under-21 midfielder Didier Digard and Dutch striker Marvin Emnes for a combined fee of around ?6million, while Justin Hoyte was brought in as a cheap replacement for Young and Ross Turnbull and Brad Jones were given the chance to fight for Schwarer’s place. All proved to be a gamble too far for the club.

A decent start saw Boro go up to eighth in the Premier League after a 2-1 win at Aston Villa last November.

However the season fell apart from that game onwards as Boro managed just two more wins in the Premier League, and broke club records for 12 successive away defeats, lowest number of goals in a season and they were subsequently relegated after a 2-1 defeat at West Ham on May 24.

Many fans were already resigned to the drop – with the 3-0 defeat at West Brom in mid-January my personal landmark result when I knew we would not survive if Southgate remained at the helm.

Boro’s demise came as a result of a loss of valuable experienced squad members and an over-reliance on youth to keep the wage bill down – something which Southgate could not be blamed for.

However he was to blame for squandering funds on unproven foreign players not cut out for English football, and a perceived lack of tactical, man-management and motivational skills.

Unbelievably, despite the vast majority of supporters clamouring for change, Steve Gibson opted to give Southgate the task of guiding Boro back to the Premier League at the first attempt this season.

Things looked to be going well as Boro were unbeaten in the opening four games and had not conceded a goal. However the inevitable loss of Tuncay and Robert Huth had an impact as Boro’s home form suffered.

Boro’s away form was the best in the division, but a 5-0 defeat to West Brom and 1-0 defeats to Leicester and Watford at the Riverside saw the fans vote with their feet dramatically.

Only 17,500 fans turned up for the 2-0 win against Derby County on October 20 – the lowest league attendance since the Riverside opened in 1995. And, despite Boro being just one point off the top of the table, Gibson thought the time had come for a change to get the fans back united behind the club.

The disappointing home form, the club’s inability to beat their anticipated promotion rivals, the fans’ apathy towards the club and the less-than-convincing performances even in victory had finally taken there toll on the man at the top.

Finally it was time for change; it was time for Gareth Southgate to go!

Written by Craig Smithson, a Middlesbrough FC season-ticket holder and a sports writer who blogs about football betting.

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